Mountain Biking the Timber Trail

As the sun rises, we see an atmospheric fog weaving its way between the forested mountains from the windows spanning one entire wall of the Timber Trail Lodge lounge. Today, we are delving into that very forest for a 45km biking mission!

Our hosts at the lodge, Nicola and Clement, have a pretty mean breakfast on the table by 7.30am, giving us plenty enough time to hit the trail early. We stuff ourselves with warm bread, fried egg and baked beans, muesli and yogurt knowing that we have some uphills to tackle this morning.

Geared up for the Timber Trail

Thanks to Paul from Epic Cycle Adventures, who dropped off and fitted us up with mountain bikes at the lodge yesterday, we have our bikes waiting outside for us. We are also equipped with a bike helmet and a GPS tracker so the Epic Cycle team can keep an eye on our progress when we are out in the cellphone-receptionless wilderness. Although the GPS tracker is not a necessity for everyone, it’s ideal for people like us who have no idea how long this trail will take us (we faff around way too much with cameras).

See you, Ongarue, in 45km!

With the sun still low in the sky, we hit the Timber Trail! First thing we notice is how well-signposted this trail is. Although there are heaps of different 4×4 tracks with the potential to confuse and bewilder, the signs refuse you to go wrong! We pass the Piropiro Campsite until we get to the official entrance of our journey today: Piropiro to Ongarue – 45km. The gravel road suddenly turns into a single track and we are immediately thrust into the most amazing forest.

Biking deeper into the dark forest Biking deeper into the dark forest
The birds cheering us on as we cycle by The birds cheering us on as we cycle by
Smooth cycling over the bridge Smooth cycling over the bridge
Excuses to stop... We mean, stops to learn about the history of the tramway... Excuses to stop... We mean, stops to learn about the history of the tramway...

The Wildlife-filled forest of the Pureora Forest park

If you told us that we were back in the World Heritage Site of the Fiordland National Park or wandering the nature sanctuary of Ulva Island all the way at the bottom of the South Island, we would totally believe you. We’ve rarely been in a forest alive with so many birds! The sound of the many weird and wonderful New Zealand birds, from the robotic-sounding tui to the cackling kaka, is pretty intense in the forest right now. At the top of moss-covered trees, huge splats of water held in the leaves from last night’s heavy rainfall are being shaken from the branches with the rapid activity of the birds. Knowing how much the bird populations struggle in New Zealand thanks to an influx of threats we humans brought to New Zealand, just being in this forest warms our hearts and gives us the determination to ride on up these initial hills.

The Maramataha Bridge

We have a quick downhill burst before emerging at the first and largest swingbridge (out of 18 bridges) of the day. The Maramataha Bridge is an impressive 141m long rising 54m over a huge river gorge. The suspension bridge structure is weirdly hypnotic as we smoothly ride past lines and lines of metal chords hold this whole structure together. Little did we know how much we need to savour this “smooth riding” moment, as we have about 3km of the track’s steepest uphill to tackle next.

And yet another scenic swingbridge!

Uphill struggles…

Although this second day of the Timber Trail, between Piropiro and Ongarue, is an easy grade trail we find that having stamina is definitely needed for these lengthy uphill sections. A few interpretation panels outlining the history of timber milling in the area provide a good excuse to stop for some water on the way up, as well as various train relics left on the side of the trail that used to be railway lines for the logging industry.

… Mud, sweat and… trees?

Finally, we have some more downhill to enjoy and get our breath back as we blast through the native forest. The gradient is easy enough to control our speed, which is especially needed thanks to all this rainfall that has left frequent muddy sections of the track. Nevertheless, we find some Department of Conservation workers maintaining the track today!

The challenge is rewarded!

The most difficult part of the track for us comes with a lengthy seven kilometers of a super steady uphill gradient. It’s so steady that it doesn’t even look like we are going uphill, but, man we can feel it! We stop halfway for lunch at the 65km mark, purely because multiples of five are much more pleasing somehow.

As much as we are huffing and puffing, we can’t deny that we are loving the variety of features, from more suspension bridges overlooking tumultuous rocky river gorges to where the historic railway line we are following goes into man-made canyons where the forest is taking over once again.

Laura loses it at lunch time Laura loses it at lunch time
Taking in the view Taking in the view
Spiralling down into the tunnel Spiralling down into the tunnel

Downhill Thrills on the Timber Trail!

The magic moment comes when we have about 10km of downhill thrills before us! It’s such a good feeling to hit the top, stop peddling, and let gravity do the rest. The vegetation opens up to the side of us to reveal to some spectacular valley views on our way down – mostly appreciated if we stop to appreciate them. Otherwise there are plenty of bumps and slight rocky sections to keep our attention on.

A literal downhill spiral

Signs warn us of the upcoming marvel that is “The Ongarue Spiral”. This is part of the railway line was a feet of engineering to get a locomotive from atop a steep hill to the bottom continuing at a steady gradient. The result: a spiral of bridge crossings and a tunnel going underneath the hill itself! We see the track below us as we peddle over the bridge, then we creep our way through a tunnel and emerge into a mossy canyon dripping with tiny waterfalls. Spiral complete!

We did it!

After emerging from the forest and following an easy-going track beside farmland, we finally see the Epic Cycle Adventures van waiting for us at the end! We made it! Paul’s son, Julian, takes the bikes from us and offers some fun conversation on the 45-minute drive back to the Timber Trail Lodge. We have a quick shower back at the lodge before having a three-hour drive to Mt Maunganui. Whose bright idea was this itinerary, Robin?! Who?!

Needless to say, we are a bit pooped by the time we check-in at Pacific Coast Lodge at Mt Maunganui… Too pooped to talk about it, despite being given an awesome introduction to the place by Celia from reception. More on that and the beginning of a sh*t-load of activities in Mt Maunganui and Tauranga starting from tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

The beginning and the end of the spiral: Mind blown!
The beginning and the end of the spiral: Mind blown! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read that post about hiking on Mt Ruapehu? What about these articles:

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See you tomorrow!

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